Continuing its series on federal prosecutorial misconduct, USA Today says that in at least 48 cases since 1997, defendants were convicted but, because of misconduct, got shorter sentences than they would have received otherwise. If prosecutors’ chief motive for bending the rules is to ensure that guilty people are locked up, their actions often backfire.
In Washington, D.C., the Justice Department agreed to shorter prison sentences for at least eight convicted murderers during the past decade after judges and defense attorneys discovered that prosecutors had improperly concealed evidence that could have helped the defendants and their attorneys contest the charges. The latest such deal came in March, when prosecutors agreed to an eight-year sentence for a defendant who fatally stabbed a 45-year-old man in front of two young children. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney, said that seven of the eight convicted murderers were prosecuted “by a single lawyer who left the office more than 15 years ago, hardly a systemic problem” in an office of more than 300 prosecutors. Plea bargains give both sides an opportunity to cut their losses, says Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “From the prosecutors’ point of view, they just want to put that one aside and move on. That’s an unpleasant memory,” she says.